Not Past It - A UFO in the Southwestern Sky

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Pauli was just 10 years old.

When he saw something strange in the night sky, over his home, he and his family lived in the north of Phoenix and a neighborhood surrounded by Hills.

And on this night in March 1997.


There was supposed to be a super clear sighting of comet Hale-Bopp.

A lot of people were hoping to catch a glimpse of it.

I just remember thinking as a kid.

My name’s, Hal.

It’s almost the same.

So I was like, oh, I’m going to find this.

Comet pal remembers.


He was sitting in his family’s 1970s Chevy Nova, parked in the driveway.

His dad had just driven him home.

The doors handle was broken because the car was kind of old.

I always had to wait for my dad to walk around to the passenger side to open the door, as he was sitting there and the car waiting for his dad to come around the other side.


He snuck a peek out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the comet in the sky.

So I’m looking in the sky.

Guy to try to find it.

I see the comet and I was like, oh my gosh, this is so cool.

It’s a comet but he didn’t dress see this comment up there.

Something else caught his attention.


When I look through the window.

I could see like just five little lights in an arch formation.

How eventually got out of the car?

Still looking up at the sky.

He’s like, okay.

This could be a plane, a jet.


Maybe he runs through other place.

Answers to a hot air balloon, a helicopter.

He got his dad’s attention.

So I tell me that.

Hey, Dad, look, there’s some lights and he goes.

Oh, cool, cool.

Yeah, but also mysterious and how was coming up blank stumped.


By the big question mark in the sky above.

Hal didn’t know it at the time, but he wasn’t the only one trying to answer that burning question.

I was like, Dad, like what is this?


From gimlet media.

This is not past it a show about the stories.

We can’t quite leave behind every episode.

We take a moment from that very same week in history and tell you the story of how it shaped our world.

I’m Simone plannin on March 13, 1997, 25 years ago this week.


Lots of people like Halle and his family looked up in the Arizona sky and saw something.

Aang something they couldn’t understand.

The strange event was later called The Phoenix Lights.

One of the most famous Mass UFO sightings in American history on the show.


We’re breaking it down who saw what and when what the lights might have been, what the government told, everyone it was and why we’re still seeking answers to UFO.

Sightings today.

It’s a bird.

It’s a plane.

It’s coming up.


After the break.

It’s March 13th. 1997 Hal.

We had just stepped out of the car in the driveway of his family home houses.

He and his father, looked up in the sky at this object, that was moving towards them.


It was emotional, it started with, you know, curiosity excitement.

And then utter confusion really confused, like beyond words, confused.


And then I thought that, oh my gosh, you know, aliens have invaded and I’m gonna die now because that’s what happens when these things happen.

We had like hairs on the back of her neck that we’re going to die.

The lights started to do some weird things.


Pal said, the formation eventually changed shape.

We notice the distance between the lights were getting bigger sideways.

So like the arch was growing and they’re like, oh, like that’s not a balloon then because the space.

This is getting bigger between the lights.


How was spooked?

At some point.

He bolted inside the house to grab his mom and he’s like, quick, look, the family stood clustered on the driveway.

He said this formation had made its way closer and closer to them now directly over their neighborhood, and it was huge.


It’s like one of those things.

Like, if you’re an IMAX theater, and you have to look way to the right, if you’re sitting in the front row, to be able to see the other side, you look way to the left.

I mean, you couldn’t look up at it and see it with one glance.

Hal noticed something else.


Normally a plane or a jet would have made a loud noise flying through the valley.

The sound would have bounced off the mountains reverberating across the neighborhood, but he said this object was moving towards them in total silence.

Give me chills thinking about how slow it was and how low it was and how quiet it was.


So let’s talk about what Hal says.

He saw there’s a couple of videos of this moment.

You can see them on YouTube, these lights were in a triangular shape, like birds flying in formation.

How says, in between each light was total?



No sense of the sky or Stars.

Whatever was hovering above them appeared to be a solid object.

Like when I saw it, it was a UFO like I knew it was a UFO.

Whoa, meaning that I didn’t know what it was.


But look how wasn’t alone in believing.

He saw a UFO.

Actually, lots of people in Phoenix that night saw it to calls flooded the National UFO Reporting Center.

According to those files, a couple wrote that they were walking their dog in a park in Phoenix when they saw a UFO pass over a mountain in another reported, citing a little league game had to Stop when the lights appeared over the crowd.


And there were also reports of the sightings from different states, like, Nevada, California, and New Mexico.

The reports did contain some differences but across the board.

They were strikingly similar Witnesses reported seeing a massive solid object made up of a series of Lights, it appeared to be blocking the sky behind it, and it flew very low actor.


Kurt Russell, even I saw it while piloting a plane through Arizona.

He talked about it.

Years later, these Bank of light six lights in the shape of a triangle going back.

Right over the airport.

He says he was descending into Phoenix coordinating with air traffic control when he saw it and I’m looking at them as I’m coming in.


I’m, you know, on the, on the horn, talking to him and I’m coming in, and I’m not saying anything about it because I’m kind of confused by it, but I can’t tell now if you Not trust the dude who starred in a movie called Sky High.

I mean Hello.

Sky is in the title.


The location where this whole thing is taking place.

Anyways, you get it.

Lots of witnesses reported seeing this UFO.

I’m guessing when you hear UFO, you’re probably thinking who aliens and by 1997, especially UFOs were burned into the culture by a certain Hollywood Blockbuster.


Welcome To Earth.

I was like, this is in its independence day.

It’s Independence Day because we had just saw the movie in 1996.

So, of course, this big thing that we’re realizing is a craft.

Okay, I feel like we need some pop culture context here.


So let me catch you up on where we are culturally in this moment.

Okay, so it’s the late 90s Steven Spielberg’s e.t.

Has already come out more than a decade before Scully and Mulder of X-Files were fan faves this.


Why we came out here.

Heroes for the space nerds.

There was Star Trek Voyager and the movie.

Mars Attacks was also ahead.

It’s safe to say that there are obvious reasons why a fascination with the unknown and extraterrestrial life might have been on the minds of many Americans.


People were hungry for alien stories.

This was all in the Zeitgeist for the many witnesses who say they saw the Phoenix Lights that night, but for lots of people who didn’t see them.

It was a story that amused them.

The reports of sightings were largely dismissed as silly stuff networks.


Started putting people like Hal and his dad on TV, but not taking them.

Seriously tonight.

First on Fox, we hear from a phoenix family, who may have been closer to what ever it was in the sky closer than anyone else.

Here’s how’s Dad Tim Lee?


It’s getting closer and closer.

It was saying, you know, that things coming right?

At us.

Tim Lee and his family are among.

The hundreds of wood, then the story.

Eventually crescendoed on June, 18th USA.

Today ran a huge story about the event, finally, putting a name to this thing.


That’s so many people had seen the Phoenix Lights, the story made it circuit on the big National shows, like, NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw.

Are we alone?

No, I don’t mean.

Just you and me, I mean.


This Earth and we had some visitors recently.

Tom Brokaw.

Looks like he’s holding back some laughs.

As he delivers the news.

He’s on the verge of an eye roll.

The report does a few interviews with Witnesses.

How’s Dad was interviewed?



Something was there.

It was a Structure.

It was going 35 miles an hour.

It was huge.

It didn’t make a sound and you tell me what can do that.

The increased media coverage put a spotlight on Witnesses and their stories, including how, anyone who didn’t see the lights.


Mocked him for what he saw.

He was bullied about it enough that it’s still hard to talk about a lot of times people made fun of me when I was a kid because, you know, they’re like, oh, you believe in aliens, you know, your would, you know, they beam you up, you know, you know, it’s pretty traumatizing.


Despite the ridicule that many witnesses were met with Still wanted answers even more.

So now because they wanted to prove what they saw was legit for how and other Witnesses would happen.

Next seemed like it might be what they were looking for the day after the USA.


Today story ran on June 19, Arizona Republican Governor Fife symington held a press conference where he promised to announce new developments behind the Phoenix Lights.

Finally, how Be able to figure out what exactly.


He saw in the driveway that night I’m saying like on the news like oh like, you know, we have we have the results of what was over Phoenix.

You know what I remember sitting with my mom and my dad are like, oh my gosh, and it was channel 3, you know, I watch that every morning before school.

So I’m like, oh my gosh, like think we get an answer, you know, symington stands at this Podium?


Photographers are rapidly.

Taking photos.

The governor.

Basically, says, he solved the mystery of the Phoenix Lights and now Last officer Stein and his colleagues to escort the accused into the room so that we may all look upon the guilty party.

Governor symington is Chief of Staff guy named.


Jay hilar comes out in front of everyone wearing an alien costume.

Literally a huge rubber mask with shiny beady eyes.

Don’t get him too.

Close to me, please.

It’s clear.


They’re making a bed out of this.

There are a lot of people laughing in the room.

The staffer stands next to symington as part of the gag.

He’s in handcuffs.

He takes the mask off the crowd laughs and basically with a smile symington completely dismisses, the entire incident, then he delivers his punch line.


This just goes to show that you guys are entirely too serious.

Now for all the laughs and that room, it was a very different scene back at Hal’s house.

When he watched the suppressor unfold, he said that it was difficult to watch on TV, the governor Fife symington came out, you know, and I was just, you know, I just felt like I was getting made fun of again, you know.


Yeah, by that happening, it was like you’re a joke.

If like, this isn’t real get over it, after his little skit symington did say, he’d looked into the matter.

He said, he made inquiries with the commander at Luke Air, Force Base the general in charge of the National Guard and the head of the Department of Public Safety.


But he hadn’t learned anything yet, but the gist of this press conference was abundantly clear.

He was basically saying, hey, Crazy thing you saw in the sky.

It was a nothing Burger.

But then something surprising happened.


That would throw everything that came before it into a totally new light.

And just one light this time because someone after all, that Fanfare ended up changing his story after the break.


Governor symington says, he saw something that night too.


Welcome back.


My UFOs.

My Uber fantastic organisms.



We’ll go with that before the break.

We learned about the Phoenix Lights.

A mysterious formation, that graced the night sky, over the southwest and March 1997.


And we saw how the government officials in charge of looking into this stuff were treating.

These reports of UFO sightings.

Like they were a joke.

But then around the 10-year anniversary, Governor symington, the same guy who held the press conference with the staffer dressed up in an alien costume.


Don’t get him too close to me, please.

Well, he changed his tune in this report that ran on CNN in 2007, symington gave an interview.

He’d left.

The governor’s office by that point and was working in business and he made an unexpected and strange comment to the reporter.


He takes the reporter to a Phoenix Park.

The two of them are standing outside bright Skies, around them symington has his hands on his hips and then I literally cannot believe what he says, if you, if you had been here 10 years ago and standing out here and looking up there, at the, at the lights and the view, you would have been astounded.


You would have been amazed.

Excuse me, sir.

Are you not the same?

I am governor who made his little jokes about the Phoenix Lights incident in the first place.

What led to this change of heart?

A documentary filmmaker and ufologists says, he sent a copy of his film about UFOs to the former Governor symington.


Apparently, watched the documentary and was fascinated by it.

Symington later, said, he wanted to set the record straight.

By coming forward to tell his story.

He felt bad that people were ridiculed for what they had seen.

What he saw.

And so he did the CNN interview and I suspect that unless the defense department proves us otherwise that it was probably in some form of an alien spacecraft and I think as a public figure, you have to be very careful about what you say, because some people can have pretty emotional reactions.


There’s an active Reddit community that still talks about the lights and symington flip-flopping dragging, the former Governor for ridiculing people in the press conference.

One commenter wrote recently.

He tried to make it a joke.

Now the joke’s on him symington.


Flip-flopping shouldn’t be that surprising though.

Over the decades.

The federal government has approached UFOs.

And pretty much the same way because you guys people have been seeing UFOs in the sky for a long time.


The first widely reported UFO sighting was back in 1947.

An amateur pilot said, he saw lights in a formation near Mount Ranier and Washington State.

And another early account a Rancher came across a mass of wreckage near a military Airfield and Roswell New Mexico.


Although, the government said later.

It was a weather balloon.

Through the 50s and 60s sightings continued with UFO.

Spottings picking up alongside Cold War tensions.

At one point.

There was an effort to investigate these reports as part of something called Project Blue Book headquartered at a military base in Ohio, but here’s the thing through all these moments the federal government has stayed pretty consistent on whether or not to investigate these sightings and what they mean, are these things if they Just a threat to National Security.


That’s what they’re interested in Gregg.

Ian is a professor who studies the history of science and medicine at Penn State University.

And is the author of an upcoming book on UFOs.

He says, over the decades a pretty clear pattern emerged UFO, sightings kept happening and the federal government dismissed.


Those reports, the secrecy, the kind of posturing only added to the feeling that government is concealing.

Of government, you know, isn’t taking this seriously enough at least publicly because behind the scenes they were always looking into what was going on.


In 2017, the New York Times put out a bombshell story, it revealed that a shadowy corner of the Pentagon had actually been hiding their efforts to look into UFOs for nearly 10 years.

And then in 2021 came a real turning point steeped in fervor, for one, former President, Barack Obama went on Late Night with James Corden and straight up talked about UFOs.


What is true and I’m I’m actually being serious here.

Is that there are there’s footage and records of objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are.

And then in June a month after that appearance, the government released a very important report.


What does the US government know about UFOs.

The Pentagon is releasing report on that.

Very question later this month.

Director of National Intelligence officer issues.

This report.

It’s a very brief thing.

It’s not very lengthy.

Very, very short on details.


This report has a pretty fancy name.

Preliminary assessment unidentified aerial phenomena.

The office looked into more than 120 sightings reported by Navy Pilots over the last two decades and it’s worth noting that this was released to the public.


Not kept hush-hush, like these kinds of findings usually were For the fear Skeptics and the True Believers.

The UFO question was addressed head-on in this report.

Basically, it says we’ve looked into it and we have to say the vast majority of these things seem to be real objects.


These are not hoaxes.

These are not Phantom projections or artifacts of our computer systems.

We don’t know what most of them.

If not, all of them are.

Finally, some real acknowledgement from a federal organization.


So even though this thing is brief and kind of vague for any True Believers out there, who are hoping that these sightings are legitimate.

This is a huge deal.

The report concludes with a sort of mandate to look into this area yet again, but with a real concerted effort and with real resources for people who are hoping for government to take seriously.


The prospect of extraterrestrials there’s enough in some of the wording here that tells us that they are at least tipping their hat to those folks in the folks who are lobbying for the alien Prospect more seriously and saying we hear you.


But it’s it’s very cloaked in other wording.

It’s cloaked in other ways.

So not an outright confirmation of alien life or anything like that, but they don’t Lately close the door on it at the very least, the report acknowledges that these sightings are legit.


So different from house experience, watching a man dance around in an alien costume at that press conference, feeling totally invalidated in a way it affirms, what?

That ten-year-old kid couldn’t get anyone to believe him about.


I was innocent childlike.

I was just Seeing something and then explaining it to people.

They hear like, oh, you saw UFO and you immediately think like, oh, you believe in aliens, you know, and it’s like, that’s not even the conversation.


I’m having right now.

The conversation I’m having, is that there was something so beyond words that I cannot describe it.

There are thousands of UFO sightings in North America.

Each year.

People who report to have seen strange phenomena that are still left.


No answers.

And by the way, there are plausible, theories logical ones for what happened in the Sky in March 1997.

The lights have been connected to flares that were being dumped in the sky from a military training flight nearby though.


True Believers can test the timing of those flares against their own.


What strikes me though is that this was never really an issue of what was in the sky that night?

Night that I could definitely be one thing versus another aliens or flares.



It’s really about belief, the folks wanting to be believed the folks who don’t believe them.

The witness is versus their government that sense of transparency and honesty from a government.

I think would actually put everybody at it.


He’s more than hiding it.

I understand from their perspective that they might say.

Well, you know that might cause a little hysteria.

If we say, We don’t know something.

Sometimes you don’t know and you don’t know what the future is going to hold.

What house saw was as real to him then as it is now.


Ultimately, then believing me or not isn’t going to change what happened and what I know what happened and that, you know, if I was alone by myself, I might even question my own reality and what I saw, because it would just be so beyond belief, but it’s something that like not only did I see it, my whole family saw it and we were completely astonished.


How believes he saw something that night, regardless of what it was, his belief is unshakable, but it is scary to think about how deeply you might question your own experience.

If met with enough invalidation, what you might Overlook or dismiss in the absence of clarity.


I’ve had been my friend.

I do wonder how I would have received the news of what he saw what I’d be dismissive what I’ve make fun of him.

I’d like to think I’d be open to his experience.

And honestly, I’m one of those people that’s like, how could there not be aliens?


But are they hovering over Arizona?

I don’t know.

Are they a huge fans of turquoise jewelry?

I’m kidding, which is itself, probably telling it’s tempting to lean on your logical brain.

Crack a joke move on from this notion so far outside our reality.


It’s Comfortable.

Because the truth is, we just don’t know, these flying objects, are unidentified to even think about that.

A little too hard.

Just makes my heart beat a little faster.

I understand why someone would brush off house experience, but then to actually witness something, you can’t quite understand.


I don’t see how you could ever forget it.


Not passed it as a Spotify original produced by gimlet and zsp media.

This episode was produced by Amy, Padula next week.

We look at the surprisingly exciting history of the metric system.

The things we don’t notice are in fact, sometimes far more powerful than the things that we do.


So the fact that measurement is kind of boring.

Is it?

Secret power?

The rest of our team is producer.

Sarah Craig, our associate producers are remotely Philip and Julie, Carly.

Laura Newcombe is our production assistant.


The supervising producer is Erica Morrison, editing by k.t., Feather.

Moral Waltz, and Andrea be Scott fact-checking by Jane.

Ackerman sound design and mixing by Hans Dale.

She original music by Sachs kicks, Ave.

Willie, Green, Jay bless and Bobby.



Our theme song is Toko Liana by Coco, Co with music supervision by Is Fulton technical Direction by Zach Schmidt show art by Elysee Harvin and Talia Rahman, the executive producer a DSP media is Zach Stewart Ponte.

The executive producer from gimlet is Abbie.



If you want to learn more about UFOs and history, you can read reporter.


Canes book called UFOs, generals pilots and government officials.

Go on the record special.

Thanks to Lydia Pole, Green, Dan, Behar gen hon.


Emily wiedemann, list, Styles and Josh.

Bianchi follow not past it.

Now to listen for free exclusively on Spotify.

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You can follow me on Twitter at Simone palana in.


Thanks for Hangin.

We’ll see you next week as a person that saw a UFO.

I was just in a very unique circumstance and you know, it is, it’s a part of History.

I don’t know if anything like that will ever happen again.